The Beauty of Opera: The Passion of My Lifetime and My Love of The Lyric Opera of Chicago

The Beauty of Opera: The Passion of My Lifetime and My Love of The Lyric Opera of Chicago

When I was ten years old, I had an epiphany.

I was walking through the local library, quietly minding my own business, my mind swirling with all the complicated and complex philosophical questions a ten year old has, such as “Will my mother leave me in the supermarket?” or “What are these red things on my face? All of a sudden, my eye was caught by three words printed on a large CD case: The Magic Flute. I was suddenly transported to my very early days, when I would rent a cartoon version of The Magic Flute that ABC had produced in the early nineties, featuring the voice talents of Mark Hamill and Michael York. (You can actually watch the complete cartoon, as someone has kindly uploaded it to YouTube!)

I picked up this CD and thought, “I liked the music of the cartoon, maybe I’ll like this?” Little did I know that the cartoon was an extremely watered-down version of Mozart’s exquisite score and the story was completely chopped apart. The plot of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in German its title is Die Zauberflote, is about a prince, Tamino, who is sent by The Queen of The Night to save her daughter Pamina from the “evil” wizard Sarastro, but it turns out The Queen is the villain, a practictioner of the dark arts. The opera progresses as Tamino and his birdcatcher friend Papageno are put to the test of their strength, as it is revealed Sarastro is the kind and gentle leader of a religious sect. Tamino is successful and he is married to Pamina, her mother being banished to eternal darkness. The story is a perfect fairy tale with a breathtaking score, the most famous set piece being The Queen of The Night’s impassioned revenge aria “Der Holle Rache” (“Hell’s Wrath.”) This was also the first opera I saw at The Lyric Opera of Chicago. The first time I stepped into this hallowed building, I knew I was in a sacred place. It felt like kneeling before an alter at church, my soul wafting in the rapturous breezes of the drama of the moment. Since that moment, I have made at least one pilgrimage to Lyric each year, no matter what.

Since the first moment I listened to the complete score, I was hooked. I worked my way up the ladder to more of Mozart’s operas, eventually graduating to Strauss, Puccini, Handel, Verdi and all the way up to contemporary composers, including Philip Glass and John Adams. Each week as I went to the library, I would pick out a new recording and the sheet music, being transported to a new plane of beautiful existence, where I could watch good and evil do battle, lovers obtain true affection and even singing terrorists! I was in absolute heaven, my life now being embraced by this new passion. That passion, from that moment, has never left me.

Opera is one of the few sacred things in my life. It is held on a plane above all else, untouched by any of my other interests. Nothing excites me more than listening to this glorious music and feeling it seep into my veins. I’m listening to it even as I type this love letter to my favorite art form. But, for me, it’s not just an art form; it’s my career. Since the age of 16 I have been training as an opera singer. After listening to opera for years, one day while I was listening to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, I decided for the first time to open my mouth and sing along with those sacred voices. Oddly, I was not displeased with what came out. I was taking piano lessons at a music studio at the time, so my piano teacher suggested that I add singing lessons to my work load. The rest, as they say, is history.

Opera isn’t just a hobby for me; it’s my life. I can’t live and breathe without listening to opera each day. My heart and my mind thrive on hearing the dulcet tones of Renee Fleming or the cavernous bass of Samuel Ramey, the rich mezzo of Magdalena Kozena and the floating tenor of John Mark Ainsley. The music of Mozart and Handel inflame my soul and the music of Strauss and Verdi breathe fire into my lungs. Every day, walking on my way to work at my local library, I hum “Ah Chi Mi Dice Mai” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It is literally the soundtrack of my existence on this mortal plane.

Many people feel that opera is above them, something foreign and devious. But, while the music may be complex and the language may present a temporary challenge, opera is at its heart about the passion of living. These people, heroes and villains, are all flawed and beautiful in their own ways. Like a perfectly-plotted movie, opera has drama, comedy and a little something for everyone. It may take a while to find the composers you love most and the performers who fit your needs but, once you do, the rest is ambrosia.

So, dear readers, I ask you tonight to listen to some of the examples of opera that I have linked to so far in this blog (I will also link to some at the end.) Turn off your preconceived notions and biases and bask in the momentary joy of this music. Feel the passion in your bones and, while you might not become as ardent as I am, you may find yourself looking at it in a new light.

You owe it to yourself to drink in something new in your life each day, to break barriers and discover new things that you love, whether it be trying a new food or reading a new author.

Opera is the most beautiful thing to me, because for fourteen years it has given me an outlet that inspires me and lifts my soul up in ecstasy.

And no one will ever be able to take that from me.

A selection of great opera pieces from famous composers:

Purcell: “When I am laid in earth” from Dido and Aeneas

Handel: “Svegliatevi nel core” from Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) 

Mozart: “Voi Che Sapete” from Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) 

Beethoven: “Oh war ich schoen” from Fidelio 

Puccini: “Un bel di vedremo” from Madame Butterfly 

Verdi: “Sempre Libera” from La Traviata 

Wagner: “Dich teure halle” from Tannhauser

R. Strauss: “Allein, weh ganz allein” from Elektra 

John Adams: “The Chorus of The Exiled Palestinians” from The Death of Klinghoffer

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